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Gandhi‎ by Taya Zinkin , 1965



"Gandhi landed in Bombay just in time for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. He was extremely loyal to Britain. British rule in India was not perfect but it did India much good. He took part in the celebrations, proudly singing ""God Save the Queen", and waving the Union Jack."

- opening lines of Chapter 8 titled 'To India and Back'. Gandhi was visiting India after his first trip to South Africa where he had already started defending the 'Coolies'. After a short stay he sailed back to South Africa, this time with family. On reaching Durban, after not being allowed to get off the ship for days and with whites demanding that he be deported back, bravely walks out with an English friend but gets mobbed, passes out and is saved by the wife of a white Inspector of Police who takes him to her house. The crowd soon descends on the house asking that Gandhi be handed over to them. Realizing that the situation can get riotous, Gandhi put on the uniform of a policeman and walked out of the back door while the owner of the house, the Police Inspector - certain Mr. Alexander, to distract the crowd sang a little song of his own invention:

"Hang old Gandhi
on the sour apple tree."



Frenchwoman Taya Zinkin (1918-2003) was the Manchester Guardian correspondent in India (Bombay) in 1950s.  She went on to write many books on India including one titled 'Britain and India, requiem for Empire' (1964), co-authored by her husband Maurice Zinkin, an ex-ICS officer.  Interestingly in 1947, Maurice Zinkin as Deputy Secretary at the Ministry of Finance in Delhi, on being challenged by a journalist  to prove that Pakistan could survive Partition, produced a paper titled 'The Viability of Pakistan'. Even though he had first cleared this paper with his Hindu superior, the paper cost him £500 off his pension because Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, used it to bargain with Nehru. He was soon asked to retire prematurely but stayed on for another couple of months, without pay, to help the government of India handle the Partition riots.

British values.

Surprisingly you get to read a lot about it in this breezy biography of Gandhi also. Apart from an occasional waving of Union Jack, at times Gandhi gets painted as the last real Englishman alive in India who wanted the British to regain their sense of Justice. Somewhere in the book, even words of a 'great' Englishman are invoked:
Gokhale shared Gandhi's admiration for British values and his belief that British rule was good for India. Both of them wanted to see India free, one day in the future. Both of them had no doubt that British would set India free as soon as she was ready for it. Thomas Macaulay, a great Englishman, had expressed their own feelings in his famous Minute on Education, half a century before, when he wrote,
"To have found a great people sunk in the lowest depths of slavery and superstition, to have so ruled them as to have made them desirous and capable of all the privileges of citizens, would indeed be a title of glory all our own. The sceptre may pass away from us...But there is an empire exempt from all natural causes of decay. Those  triumphs are the pacific triumphs of reason over barbarism; that empire is the imperishable empire of our arts and morals our literature and our laws."
Gandhi was the first to admit that Macaulay was right when he spoke of the depths of slavery and superstition to which India has sunk.

And so according to this biography, Gandhi was the gifted one who accorded this last great 'triumph' to Britain who were only waiting for the day to come. Gandhi becomes one of Macaulay's Children. Indeed we learn that growing up in India, Gandhi's knowledge of his Hindu religion was only superficially, most of it mixed up with the ritualism of his pious mother.  He was to discover Hinduism only later in England when through a vegetarian club he met two Englishmen who (shocked that Gandhi hadn't read Gita) gave him "Song Celestial" - Sir Edwin Arnold's English translation of Gita.

Elsewhere in the book, she write:
The Gandhi who founded Phoenix [the farm in Durban that he started after reading Ruskin's Unto This Last, again a gift from an Englishman] was a loyal supporter of the British, as his article in Indian Opinion [the weekly magazine that he started in Johannesburg, later run by his son Manilal] show. He kept pointing out that British deserved to be admired. Why did England conquer India? he asked his readers. By sheer courage and merit. Indians should emulate the British not only in their courage, but also in their cleanliness.
Later  as things started heating up in South Africa, we are told that "The Viceroy of India- the representative of the King Emperor - made a famous speech defending the satyagrahis, praising Gandhi[...]"

The book, obliviously meant for British readers, turns out to be more about Gandhi's happy relation with British than just a biography of Gandhi. Gandhi's relation with fellow Indians is hardly dealt with. Even someone like Nehru is mentioned only fleetingly.

But in all this luxurious talk about British values, Taya Zinkin also offers a very interesting take on 'Great Indian Mutiny' of 1857 and the Caste system ( about latter, she even wrote a book, 'Caste today'‎ 1962). Explaining Gandhi's position on caste reforms, she quotes him saying: "Social reform can only take place from within, and it requires freedom." Driven by his personal experience, Gandhi believed that the sin of the Hindus could only be driven out by the Hindus themselves. Government intervention could lead to a counter revolution.  Taya Zinkin adds the Mutiny context to it:
"He was indeed right. In the past, the Mutiny had broken out not so much because Indian soldiers were issued with cartridges greased with pork and beef fat - both of which they considered polluting - but because the British had interfered with age-old Hindu customs, like the killing of baby daughters and human sacrifice to the Goddess Kali; and because they had introduced changes in the laws of inheritance."

In early 1950s Nehru had to face a stiff Hindu opposition to the proposed Hindu Code Law. Even Rajendra Prasad, a man hand-picked by Gandhi, the then President of India, was also concerned enough to claim, 'new concepts and new ideas...are not foreign to Hindu Law but may cause disruption in every family.' When the Hindu nationalists asked Nehru why didn't he dare come up with something similar for Muslims, relying on Gandhian thought, the Nehruvian answer according to his biographer Sarvepalli Gopal  (Jawaharlal Nehru, volume 3) was that Nehru:
"in defiance of logic, refused to consider alterations in Muslim personal law on matters of monogamy and inheritance so as to place all Indian women on a par. There should be no impression of the Hindu majority forcing anything, however justified, on the Muslim minority and changes would only be enacted when the Muslims wanted them"

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Illustration from the book by Robert Hales.
Photograph on the cover of the book has Mahatma Gandhi laughing with his two grand-daughters Abha and Manu at Birla House in New Delhi. September, 1947. "

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